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Slipper Strike Ends; Good Fit for Both Sides

July 14, 2005 By:
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A measure of calm has returned to the 7800 block of Bustleton Avenue; employees of the Golden Slipper Health and Rehab Center, a Jewish nursing home in Northeast Philadelphia, laid down their picket signs and agreed to go back to work.

The six-day strike ended on July 6, when, late in the afternoon, negotiators for District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees struck a deal with Golden Slipper representatives. The workers ratified a five-year contract later that evening.

Both sides say that the labor dispute boiled down to a single issue - health care, and how to ensure that nurses and therapists themselves can have access to medical care in an environment where costs are skyrocketing.

"Health-insurance benefits is the dominant issue in employment in general, and certainly, in collective bargaining," said Peter Gould, executive vice president of the local 1199C, who served as the chief negotiator for the striking workers.

Gould explained that the employees had rejected a previous contract offer when it stipulated that they pay nearly 20 percent of health-care premiums.

Before this strike, the 160 nurses, medical assistants, therapists and receptionists, along with the dining and maintenance staff, did not have to kick in any portion of their paychecks to cover such costs.

Gould, who led the negotiation team, said the workers were realists and knew those days were over, but were fighting to at least bear a smaller burden of the cost, which for the employer, Golden Slipper, has increased by roughly 50 percent in the last two years alone.

"The workers' share is being reduced to somewhere between 5 [percent] and 10 percent of the total premium," he said.

Stu Coren, a spokesperson for Golden Slipper, filled in some of the details, which didn't totally mesh with Gould's assessment. Employees will be asked to contribute 5 percent of health care costs the first year, 10 percent the second and 15 percent the third, he said.

Coren also added that workers will receive a 35-cent increase on their hourly wage for each of the next five years.

"Things will get back to normal very quickly," he noted.

A Hot Start to the Summer
Last week, things were anything but normal. After voting down a contract offer on June 30, workers went on strike starting at midnight.

Throughout the day on Friday, picketers did their best to prevent replacement workers - and nearly anyone else - from entering the building.

According to both Coren and Gould, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge handed down an injunction late Friday that effectively ended the blockade by allowing only four demonstrators in front of the building at a time, and stipulating that the picket line remain across the street from the building.

On July 7, the day after the strike ended, few permanent staff had returned to the job; temporary employees who work for an outside agency were still running much of the facility. At the front desk, a receptionist hurriedly answered a relentlessly ringing phone, repeatedly telling callers that the strike was over.

Security guards wearing all black and carrying walkie-talkies patrolled the inside and outside of the building. Coren said the guards worked for a security company and had been on site since July 2, and would remain there through July 15, "just as a precautionary measure."

All staff was expected back to work by July 11, he said.

He also made it a point to note that "Golden Slipper is very happy with the overall agreement."

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